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Dead Meg Beg No Scraps: Mickey lives in a high apartment building alone with his memories of being a star until an old flame walks back into his life and offers him a second shot at stardom. But, does it come at a price Mickey is not prepared to pay?
It was raining in the city. Raining hard, like the skies were trying to wash the memories from the buildings, the walls, the train yards and the sidewalks. Five-foot nothing and with a figure that looked like he'd been carved just to make passers-by laugh, Mickey leaned against the window frame of his twelfth-story apartment and looked out to the horizon. Water spattered against the pane, like a warning keeping him inside. Keeping him locked in this house of memories. There was a rap of knuckles against the peeling wooden door. Mickey looked around. Why couldn't they fix the security intercom? If he was going to face visitors these days he wanted at least five damn minutes to throw water on his face and put the whiskey back in the dresser. He lurched across the boards to the door and pulled it open before turning away and heading back into the room. He didn't even look to see who was behind the door. "Is that any way to greet an old flame?" came a dove-song laced voice from the door. Mickey looked around. He watched as Alexandria swept into the room, the hem of her dress gliding across the boards, like she floated and had no connection with the mundanity of the floor. Her hourglass figure kept the same time as Mickey remembered and the bee-stung lips showed no sign of getting any less swollen, red or losing any sparkle. He fought down the joy in his chest. They call it the past because it's gone and no broad in a cheap cocktail dress could change that, even if she could make an end of line outfit look like a million dollars. "You're a real piece of art, Alex," Mickey told her and gave her a roguish grin, "why are you hanging in a place like this?" She came up to him and cupped his face in her hands, forcing him to look up and meet her eyes. "Mickey, baby, I came with good news. Abe sent me." Abe Ewart, though Mickey, my old agent. There was an old saying: when the world ends the only creatures left alive will be the 'roaches. And, Abe Ewart will be queuing up behind them with a fork. "Well, well," Mickey said, "what does that old second-hand trader want with me? He ain't had reason to call in years." Alexandria let go of his face and took up his hands, leading him over to the worn couch by the TV. Mickey tried not to think about the last time she'd done that in this apartment. The couch groaned under their weight, as if to say "get off! I'm too old to carry two of you!" "They're making a movie, Mickey honey! They want you! It's your movie -- your name is all over it!" Mickey simply stared at her. He hadn't been a star since ... he couldn't even remember when. Plenty of trains had rolled out of this city since those days. "Are they crazy?" Mickey said, "nobody makes pictures about me anymore. What happen to that Italian kid with the moustache or that limey broad? You know her, the acrobatic girl with the guns?" The angel shook her head, making her elegantly curled locks dance around her face with joy, "Abe says there a real old-school revival. People are getting interested in the old stories again. Says he wants to make a picture just like the old days. With you. About you. Hell honey you could be a star again!" Mickey turned his nose up. "I may be a mouse in this town now, but I know a rat when I smell it. If this picture was above board Abe would have come himself. He only needs to send out the pretty if he thinks I'm gonna say no." He turned away from her, trying not to hope. She simply moved closer to him, "I wanted to come and tell you myself, honey. What? You think I could hear about the best thing to happen to you in years and I didn't want to run straight over and bring you the news?" He looked around at her, her lip was quivering with emotion -- or with the strain of still trying to play the ingenue after all these years, he thought, a little maliciously. "Come on, Mickey," she pleaded, her voice running like icy water over a crystal waterfall, "it'll be just like old times. Whaddaya say?" He felt like the mouse who'd just seen the kitchen door left open, with a pile of cheese waiting -- and even if there were a hundred traps he couldn't see them from here. He couldn't exactly say "no." "Sure Alex," Mickey said at last, "let's me and you revisit some old times." It was clear to Mickey as soon as he walked onto the lot how much things had changed since he went away. It was colder, he thought, run by the bean-counters and the lawyers and no place for the little man with a great idea. Alexandria was hanging on his arm the whole way to Abe Ewart's tiny office. He was sitting behind the desk filling his face with a greasy meat sandwich, dropping bits of lettuce all over the papers on the desk. A stack of dishevelled documents piled high in his in-tray, like a Bonzai Tower of Pisa which he tended daily for the perfect lean. Abe looked up and greeted Mickey with a broad grin and a wave of platitudes. Mickey felt like he was being verbally dressed up for a party. The question was, was he the long lost son or the fatted calf? "This is gonna be a great picture," Abe told him, drawing in the air with his hands like a showman, "we've got one of the best creative teams around working on it and they know how to pitch it for the current market." "The current market?" Mickey parroted, "where do I fit into this?" Abe slapped him on the shoulder, "it's a reinvention, Mickey-boy! That's what it's all about these days -- looking back to see what was great about the old times and making it fresh, modern! And it's dark..." Mickey raised his eyes to the ceiling, "dark? Why the hell do we want to make a dark picture? Life is dark enough at times," he looked at Alexandria, and she shifted uncomfortably, "We used to make pictures for laughs, for adventure, for fun to take people away from reality for a few sweet hours." Abe stood up, shaking his head, "dark is where it's at, these days. Audiences are more sophisticated. They've seen and heard too much of the world to accept a clean-cut hero. These days you can choose to be a hero or a villain in your story -- but whatever you choose you're still the star!" Those words rang in Mickey's ears. He'd seen the stuff that had come out of this place -- and others like it -- for years since he went away and he'd always wanted a chance to show what a bit of old-school magic could do. He looked straight into Abe's eyes. "When do we start?" It was only when Mickey got his hands on the script that he knew something was amiss. It was a great approach -- he had to give that to them at least. But something deep in the core of the story didn't make sense. The spider tracks of words coalesced on the page into meaning, plain enough, but it was the heart that was missing. His character didn't make sense: he could be both creator and destroyer. He could restore the world around and him and create beauty or he could destroy his surroundings and take the spoils unto himself. But, beyond that it said nothing. It didn't seem to matter whether the things he created were good or evil and his journey seemed to require a balance of both. This wouldn't have mattered, Mickey thought, if balance was the message of the story, but the character seemed to be judged based on his adherence to either side. There seemed to be no reason for the decisions he had to make. Mickey was also worried about the filming. He'd watched recent releases. It almost frightened him how much of an exact science the shooting seemed to be: perfectly crafted scenes captured by an almost prescient hand, like God himself moulding the Garden of Eden. Even in the old days, when he was shooting his scene he could feel at least one camera following his every move, every jump, every fall. These cameras seemed to be pointed in all kinds of different directions, like prairie dogs sniffing the air for a scent. Not one of the camera operators seemed to have a clue where the action was and were shooting whatever allowed them the most comfortable position to slouch. The scenes themselves were challenging enough. Abe used to say in the old days, "you've got to make it look like you're busting your chops when you're doing the action stuff, but that doesn't mean it should be hard to do. No one wants to break a neck making this picture." On this shoot, Mickey had had to make several re-takes of the same scenes over and over. They simply seemed physically beyond his ability to move: as if some malevolent deity had taken a measure of his longest jump and made all the platforms too far by a single inch -- to taunt him; to test his patience for the project. He tried raising his concerns with Abe. The money-loving agent didn't seem to care. As shooting went on, Abe disappeared on more and more junkets and only reappeared with a pair of bimbos on each arm and a fistful of rings on each hand. At least the pre-release hype seemed to be winning hearts. Even if mine is empty, thought Mickey. The last straw came when Mickey finally saw the rough cut of the movie. He was appalled. The lolling cameras showed little of the action and his own futile attempts to clamber over the scenery look liked the helpless falling of a stiff doll down all fifteen stories of his apartment building. The very worst thing, Mickey thought, was how it looked. The old stuff looked ropey, sure; if you wanted to compare it side-by-side with modern pictures it couldn't compete. But it was of it's time -- and in it's own time it was a thing of beauty and set the standard for everything that came after. What Mickey saw on the screens was a travesty: the colours were blotchy, his own animated performance rendered sub-par by the careless direction and unmotivated script. Without a word, Mickey threw his coffee cup to the floor and walked off the set. Abe came running after him, with a bewildered Alexandria tailing him like a concerned nurse trying to get a wilful patient back into bed. "What the hell are ya doing, Mickey-boy?" Abe demanded. Mickey spun round and pointed at the ground, as if marking the line Abe dare not cross, "I'm through with this picture. I'm through with you." The agents face filled with rage and turned a colour of red that almost made Mickey nostalgic for the old days. "It'll be more than that, Mickey-boy! If you're through with this picture you're through for good! This was your chance to make a big comeback -- not just for you, for everyone that was part of the old days. There's too many new guys making good in this city: Paxar and Drainworks are taking all of our glory. We need to hit them hard and show them what we can do! If you walk away from this you're a dead man!" Silence hung in the air like a baseball smacked high over third base and everyone was holding their breath, waiting to cheer -- waiting to know who to cheer for. Mickey shook his head, sadly and spoke. He was fighting to keep his voice from cracking as he looked between Abe and Alexandria. "I'm already a dead man, Abe. Can't you see? Don't you understand? "What we had was great. It was a beautiful thing -- it really was. We showed the world what we could do and how it should be done." Mickey gulped. "And then I died. I died and the world moved on without me. But they had their memories. They remembered me and the good times I gave them. But this?" he removed a copy of the script from his pocket and slapped it hard with the back of his hand. "This travesty is not how I want to be remembered -- making below average cash-cows for an audience that is used to better. That deserves better." Mickey turned to walk away, the low falling sun stretching his shadow across the drive and over the buildings of the lot -- his shadow making its mark on the buildings he had helped to make great. "I'd rather be dead and remembered as a legend than live and be associated with this failure. You want to make something that speaks to modern audiences? Then call it by a name they understand. Call it a Fail. Call it an Epic Fail! Can you do that, Abe? Can you be honest, or are you just taking the Mickey?" Abe and Alexandria looked at the floor sadly. Mickey walked away towards the city. The sun was baking the side of his building and he knew where he could find a killer view to watch the world go by. The world he'd helped to shape.
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